Don’t Blame George W Bush for Afghanistan!

George W Bush

So we’ve pulled out of Afghanistan now. And I guess it’s not going well. That’s what people tell me. But it strikes me as going about as well as can be expected. Republicans of course are blaming it all on Biden. And most media elites are largely putting the blame on him without saying what should have been done differently. But that’s all nonsense.

Of course, the Democratic leaders of three committees have already declared that they will be investigating Biden’s actions leading up to this. That’s a joke but also typical. These were people who had to be dragged into impeaching Donald Trump only after it became impossible not to do this.

It’s amazing that these people think this is to their advantage. It is a natural tendency for many professional Democrats to think that the smartest thing is always to abandon the party and attack it. And it never works. It just pisses off democrats. And it doesn’t get Republicans or moderates to vote for them.

Not at all! In fact, it makes a lot of people far less likely to vote for them because it makes them look weak. Makes them look like they’re not willing to stand up for their own side. And it makes them look that way because it’s true.

The “Smart” Take

But it’s become sort of the serious center-left position to claim that this was a mess two decades in the making. And many people want to place particular blame at the feet of George W Bush.

Now that is all true. The current situation in Afghanistan is most definitely the result of two decades of mismanagement. And Bush certainly did take a huge number of resources out of Afghanistan and put them into the absolutely ridiculous Iraq War.

I think the presidential blame should go in this order:

  1. George W Bush
  2. Barack Obama
  3. Donald Trump
  4. Joe Biden.

But I think it’s wrong to blame George W Bush for going into Afghanistan in the first place. For one thing, in Against All Enemies, Richard Clarke noted that Bush didn’t even especially want to attack Afghanistan. He only did it because he felt like he had to.

That doesn’t speak well of Bush. It shows that he was disconnected from what was going on. He wanted to use 9/11 for what he already wanted to do. This is why he is very much responsible for the Iraq War. But the Afghanistan War?

Who Wanted This War?

This gets to what I consider the most important thing in all of this: American’s wanted this war!

According to Gallup, when the war started, 89 percent of Americans thought the Afghanistan War was “not a mistake.” It didn’t matter that the country itself didn’t actually attack us. They were associated with the terrorist group that attacked us. And since we couldn’t attack that terrorist group, well, attack what you can! It’s like the war equivalent of the Stephen Still songs.

Many Didn’t Want This War

I was one of many people (in absolute, not relative terms) who were against the war at the time. On 9/11 itself, I predicted that the country would respond inappropriately. And it did not disappoint me! I even had a woman scream at me because I said we should not go to war.

Remember that Barbara Lee was the only person in Congress to vote against going to war with Afghanistan. And her argument was not even that we shouldn’t go to war. It was simply that we needed to slow down. We needed to take a breath.

The Authorization for Use of Military Force of 2001 was passed by both houses of Congress 3 days after 9/11. Three days! Bush took longer to sign it — a total of four days! Lee noted that we were not making a rational decision. And we weren’t!

Short-Sighted War Support

I was against going to war for slightly different, more pragmatic reasons. At that time I was studying a lot about the early days of the Vietnam War for a play I was writing. And it just seemed so obvious that this was something we were very quickly going to regret.

I thought the same thing in the lead-up to the Iraq War. But smart people like Clinton and Kerry voted to allow Bush to go to war. (So did Bernie Sanders in the House.) I knew they didn’t think it was a good idea. They were doing it because they thought it was politically savvy.

But it was so short-sighted! I knew that within a year or two (at most) the American people would have turned against the war and a “no” vote would be seen as a badge of honor.

Even when wars go reasonably well, Americans get tired of them fast. Americans were tired of World War II by 1943. And that was, you know, the Good War. It may be good politics for the next 6 months to be in favor of a war. But it is not good long-term.

The only time I can think of a war that actually did remain popular long-term was the Persian Gulf War. And that’s because that war was over very quickly. But even still, George HW Bush lost his next election. He had an 89 percent approval rating right after the war but by the time of the election, it was down to less than 40 percent.

The point is that the American public is fickle. They love the idea of a Good War in the short term. But you can depend upon them to hate it in the long term. So it’s basically always a good idea to oppose yet another war.

We Will Do This Again

Of course, in the case of the Afghanistan war, our political elites and the base of the country we’re together. It was not acceptable to stop for even a second. And that kind of sums up America right there.

If there were a marshmallow test for countries we would fail it.

But the thing is, we as a country need to come to terms with the fact that this was our choice. There have been few things during my lifetime that have been so popular amongst Americans as the Afghanistan War. If we can say that America supported anything, it is this war.

So I wish people would stop blaming Bush or Trump or Biden or four presidents or our security services or anything else. Because this is America’s failure. This is something America was almost giddy about going into. And maybe if we can admit to that, the next time we might not make such a bad decision.

Odds and Ends Vol 36

Odds and Ends

I’m so tired. Part of it is being sick. But a bigger part is just mental fatigue. The world really sucks these days. Gone are the days of Trump gaslighting me. But it’s been replaced with most of the right doing something similar. We are still in the middle of a pandemic and they are denying it.

And the only “coming to Jesus” moments are from people like Dick Farrel below. Ron DeSantis will never admit that he was wrong. And I doubt seriously he will ever be punished. More likely, he will be rewarded. It’s just horrible. Speaking of which…

Political Hot Air Can Kill You

Right-wing radio talker Dick Farrel died of COVID-19 Friday. He was until recently very much against the vaccines. He called them “poison” and said, “I know I don’t need it nor ever will.” Well, after he got very sick, he changed his mind. You know: wisdom comes suddenly to some. And then they die.

Much has been made of how he told others to get the vaccine from what turned out to be his death bed. I have a bit of a problem with this. You spend months telling your very large audience not to get the vaccine. And then in your dying days you tell your close friends and family? That’s not really enough.

But I’m sorry for those who were close to him. It sucks to care about loud-mouth idiots.

Paulogia

If you look back at my writing on religion, you will find that in late 2014, I started moving away from the online atheist community. And it wasn’t just people like Sam Harris (or worse: The Amazing Atheist). Even people like Hemant Mehta, who was reasonably respectful of others, showed some pretty sloppy thinking.

But recently, I watched some videos by Genetically Modified Skeptic. I’m not that interested in his videos. But I do like that he is respectful of others and doesn’t seem to be engaged in culture war. And that’s all I really want. I don’t really care if people are Christians as long as it doesn’t get in the way of their lives. Humans are generally irrational and I don’t get upset that people believe foolish things. I’m sure I do too.

Via GMS, I discovered Paulogia, who creates videos I’m more interested in because I find textual analysis interesting even if it sometimes makes my brain hurt. But I couldn’t get into this if the tone of the videos weren’t respectful. Here’s a good example:

Another issue is that I do think that most people would be better off without their religious beliefs — especially considering how devoid most of them are of theology. But the only way to convince theists is to respect them — at least the ones who are honest and sincere.

So I hope that GMS and Paulogia are indications of the direction that the atheist/skeptic community is going.

(There is one thing I’m not too keen about with both these guys: their apparent admiration for Christopher Hitchens. He’s fine. He was a good rhetorician. But he was not a serious thinker and the atheist/skeptic community needs to move past him. He was a big part of what poisoned the community starting a decade ago.)

I also got reintroduced to Bart Ehrman whose book Misquoting Jesus had a huge effect on me. Here’s a lecture about it but the book is really worth reading:

Good Filmmaking vs Bad Filmmaking

Recently, I was watching M Night Shyamalan’s film The Happening and I came upon a featurette that explained how they had accomplished the “amazing” Jeep crash scene. And I thought: what bullshit! They spent a huge amount of time and money to create an absolutely boring scene in one shot that would have been better if they had created it via editing.

And it got me thinking about the amazing meathook scene in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It’s done with just two camera set-ups and is incredibly effective. I’ve spoken to people who have never gotten over the scene decades after they saw it!

So I wrote an article comparing these two scenes. I’m pretty happy with it, so check it out: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre vs The Happening: Comparison of Two Scenes.

If We Were Treated Like We Treat Cuba

Janine Jackson made an excellent analogy to the way the US continues to treat Cuba and the way many have reacted to the pushback against our horrible international meddling.

Imagine if China used its power to cut off international trade to the US, including for things like medical equipment, because they didn’t like Joe Biden, and hoped that if enough Americans were made miserable, they would rise up against him, and install a leader China thought would better serve their interests. How would you think about Chinese media that said, “Well, we heard a lot of Americans say they were unhappy; they even marched in the street! Obviously, that was a call for foreign intervention from a country that understands democracy better than they do.”

And then what if some Chinese people said, “Wait, you can’t immiserate ordinary Americans to push them to overthrow their government; that’s illegal and immoral,” and other Chinese people explained, “You don’t get it; US politics are very complicated”?

COVID-19 Is Back

I used to check the CDC COVID-19 tracker every day. But a month ago, our 7-day running average of deaths got below 200 and I decided to stop. I shouldn’t have. I should have known that there are vested interests in this country that will keep this pandemic coming.

For almost a week now, our 7-day running average of deaths has been up over 400 with every sign of a continued trip upward. I think we are just going to have to get used to more people dying. And being vaccinated won’t help us. Soon, we will have a variant that isn’t controlled by the current vaccine.

And this is all because our authoritarian neighbors really want to make a statement. It boggles my mind that people are upset about mask mandates. How does this harm anyone? I can see people being upset that others don’t wear masks. But how did this minor inconvenience become a matter of “liberty”? (That’s a rhetorical question.)

For centuries, governments have taken extreme measures to fight pandemics. But suddenly, among the American right, doing anything at all is tyranny. It’s absurd.

Be Nice

I got some good feedback on this tweet over the weekend:

It’s weird to me. For one thing, these insults don’t even make sense. Sure, Apley was overweight but that wasn’t why he died. Ben Shapiro isn’t that short. And I don’t know why anyone claims Melania Trump is a slut.

But that isn’t the point. I don’t believe in shaming anyone for these things, right or wrong. And I don’t think people on the left think we should either. I just think it’s easy. But we should stop.

One person replied, “But Melani Trump is easy, cruel, and off-point.” But she thought better of it and later deleted it. If you are going to be offensive, at least be funny.

How Conservative Media Lie to You: The Tucker Carlson Spy Case

Tucker Carlson

Tucker Carlson is over in Hungary palling around with Viktor Orbán. So I thought it would be a good time to check in with his claim that the NSA was spying on him in order to get his show canceled. Well, if they were, I can’t say that would be counter to trying to keep the US secure. But, of course, the NSA is doing no such thing.

Martin Matishak at The Record reported, NSA Review Finds That Tucker Carlson’s Communications Were Not Targeted. When Carlson first made the claim, I figured that he had been scooped up because he was talking to someone outside the country who the NSA was spying on. But it’s not even that!

Tucker Carlson’s name was “mentioned in communications between third parties.” That’s it. His name was “unmasked.” But that only means that people in the government wanted to know who was being discussed. There’s no there there. Story closed!

Enter The New York Post

The conservative tabloid The New York Post had a different take on the story, Tucker Carlson’s “unmasking” Claim Confirmed by NSA Investigators: Report. It begins:

The National Security Agency has quietly admitted that the identity of Fox News prime-time host Tucker Carlson was “unmasked” and leaked as he alleged earlier this month, according to a report.

You can see in the headline and the lede that the author, Mary Kay Linge, is trying to deceive with the term “unmasked,” even though it means only that his name was unhidden in a transcript.

And who leaked this? Well, the Tucker Carlson fan who told him. This is what he said on his show:

Yesterday, we heard from a whistleblower within the US government who reached out to warn us that the NSA, the National Security Agency, is monitoring our electronic communications and is planning to leak them in an attempt to take this show off the air

This couldn’t be a more unethical telling of what Matishak reported.

The Post Knows Better

The second paragraph is just a reprint of a Fox News spokesperson’s “outraged” response. The third paragraph begins to tell what happened. But it isn’t until the fourth paragraph that we get what would be the lede in any normal paper:

But the host of Tucker Carlson Tonight was neither a direct nor an incidental target of the agency, the sources said.

So knowing that most people read only headlines and maybe the first one or two paragraphs, Linge and her editors made sure that their readers would be misinformed.

No Accountability

Since the information in The Record came out, there has been no segment on Tucker Carlson Tonight. And with right-wing sources playing interference for him, he won’t need to ever come to terms with his hyperbolic claims.

And the same is true of his audience. This is doubtless one of the reasons that Carlson and many others on the right are so impressed with the authoritarian government of Viktor Orbán. They can continue to get all the good things that go with their power and never have to deal with the bad things like responsibility and accountability.

Afterword

Let’s take a moment to remember when Rutger Bregman forced Tucker Carlson to see that reasonable people all over the world know just what Carlson is. He will at very least be remembered as the Joseph Goebbels of the USA.


Tucker Carlson by Gage Skidmore under CC BY-SA 2.0.